« ZurückWeiter »
ference there is in them at all, save that of degree, till some higher state of existence help us to a criterion ?
For our part, such real things to us are books, that, if habit and perception make the difference between real and unreal, we may say that we more frequently wake out of common life to them, than out of them to common life. Yet we do not find the life the less real. We only feel books to be a constituent part of it; a world, as the poet says,
" Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness may grow."
What do readers care for “existing things" (except when Ireland is mentioned, or a child is grieving) compared with poetry and romance? What for Bonaparte and his pretences, compared with the honest jealousy of " Orlando," or the cakes of Alfred ? What for all the parsons in the world (except Pius IX. or some Welsh curate) compared with Parson Adams or the Vicar of Wakefield ? What men (generally speaking) are they so sure of? are so intimate with ? can describe, quote, and talk of to one another with so much certainty of a mutual interest ? And yet, when readers wake up to that other dream of life, called real life (and we do not mean to deny its pålpability), they do not find their enjoyment of it diminished. It is increased increased by the contrast-by the variety-by the call upon them to show the faith which books have originally given. them in all true and good things, and which books, in spite of contradiction and disappointment, have constantly main
tained. Mankind are the creatures of books, as well as of other circumstances; and such they eternally remain ; proofs, that the race is a noble and a believing race, and capable of whatever books can stimulate.
The volumes now offered to our fellow readers originated in this kind of passion for books. They were suggested by a wish we had long felt to get up a book for our private enjoyment, and of a very particular and unambitious nature. It was to have consisted of favourite passages, not out of the authors we most admired, but those whom we most loved ; and it was to have commenced, as the volumes do, with Shenstone's Schoolmistress, and ended with Gray's Elegy. It was to have contained indeed little which the volumes do not comprise, though not intended to be half so big, and it was to have proceeded on the same plan of beginning with childhood and ending with the church-yard. We did not intend to omit the greatest authors on 'account of their being the greatest, but because they moved the feelings too strongly. What we desired was not an excitement, but a balm. Readers, who have led stirring lives, have such men as Shakspeare with them always, in their very struggles and sufferings, and in the tragic spectacles of the world. Great crowds and great passions are Shakspeares; and we, for one (and such we take to be the case with many readers), are sometimes as willing to retire from their “infinite agitation of wit," as from strifes less exalted; and retreat into the placider corners of genius more humble. It is out of no disrespect to their greatness ; neither, we may be allowed
to say, is it from any fear of being unable to sustain it ; for we have seen perhaps as many appalling faces of things in our time as they have, and we are always ready to confront more if duty demand it. But we do not choose to be always suffering over again in books what we have suffered in the world. We prefer, when in a state of repose, to renew what we have enjoyed—to possess wholly what we enjoy still to discern in the least and gentlest things the greatest and sweetest intentions of Nature and to cultivate those soothing, serene, and affectionate feelings, which leave us in peace with all the world, and in good hope of the world to come. The very greatest genius, after all, is not the greatest thing in the world, any more than the greatest city in the world is the country or the sky. It is a concentration of some of its greatest powers, but it is not the greatest diffusion of its might. It is not the habit of its success, the stability of its sereneness. And this is what readers like ourselves desire to feel and know. The greatest use of genius is but to subserve to that end; to further the means of enjoying it, and to freshen and keep it pure; as the winds and thunders, which come rarely, are purifiers of the sweet fields, which are abiding.
The book, therefore, as originally contemplated, was to consist principally, besides the pieces mentioned, of such others as Cowley's Garden, Wotton's Happy Life, the favourite passages about the country from Horace and Virgil, Claudian's Old Man of Verona, Pope's Ode on Solitude, a selection from the Coverley papers in the Spectator, Thom
son's Castle of Indolence, Letters of Gray, Virgil's Gnat out of Spenser ; and, though we have several editions of the work constantly by us, we think we could not have denied ourselves the pleasure of having something out of the Ara"bian Nights. Our Sequestered Book (for such, in our mind, we called it would hardly have seemed complete without a chapter or two about Sindbad or the Forty Thieves, or the retirement of the Fairy Banou. The book was to have been addressed entirely to lovers of sequestered pleasures, and chiefly to such as were in the decline of life, or poeti. cally beginning it.
When the volume, however, came to be considered with a view to publication, objections were made to the smallness of its size, and the probable fewness of its readers. Had we been rich, we should have parried the objection, and sent forth a volume at any rate, with the contents of which the few would have been pleased. We consoled ourselves with reflecting that we had other favourite passages which could be included in a larger book; and an extension of the plan now struck us, which in the eyes of many readers, perhaps of most, would in all probability improve it. This was, to suppose our sequestered reader thinking, not merely of the pleasures of his childhood or of his old age, but of his whole life, past or to come, and thus calling to mind passages from favourite authors of all kinds in illustration of its successive phases. The spirit of the first conception was still, however, to be carefully retained. Life, without effeminately shutting one's eyes to its perplexities, was to be re
garded, not in spleen, or in
or in narrowness of any kind, but with a cheerfulness befitting childhood, a manliness befitting a man, and with that calm and loving wisdom in age which discerns so much beauty and goodness in the face of Nature, that it cannot doubt the benevolence of her soul.
Hence the inclusion in the present volume of knaveries and other half-witted activities out in the world, and of terrors and tragedies in solitude. Hence extracts from Le Sage and Fielding, from Steele, Smollett, Goldsmith, Mrs. Radcliffe, and others.
We have imagined a book-loving man, or man able to refresh himself with books, at every successive period of his life ;—the child at his primer, the sanguine boy, the youth entering the world, the man in the thick of it, the man of alternate business and repose, tie retired man calmly considering his birth and his death; and in tbis one human being we include, of course, the whole race and both sexes, mothers, wives, and daughters, and all which they do to animate and sweeten existence. Thus our invisible, or rather many-bodied hero (who is the reader himself), is in the first instance a baby; then a child under the Schoolmistress of Shenstone; then the schoolboy with Gray and Walpole, reading poetry and romance; then Gil Blas entering the world; then the sympathiser with the John Buncles who enjoy it, and the Travellers who fill it with enterprise; then the matured man beginning to talk of disappointments, and standing in need of admonition Against